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Thursday, January 20, 2011

In memory of my Uncle Howard...

 


    Birds of a feather ~ In memory of my Uncle Howard and our shared love of birds...

A thousand characters or less is not enough to give tribute to my dear Uncle Howard.  That's what you're limited to when you choose to pay respects for someone who touched your life online.  I can barely do Twitter using 140 characters for inane stuff.  Much less share a few brief words of condolence and/or memories of man who was a part of my life for my whole life.  Make that up until now.  And, wow, does that "now" feel differently just knowing he's gone and is home with the Lord.  

However, for those of us that couldn't make it back home, or to travel to Virginia Beach from across the country for his memorial service, at least we had that online avenue available to us to sign his H.D. Oliver Guest Book and leave a short note of sympathy acknowledging his loss and meaning to our family.  Usually, I'm hesitant to mention my family members by name, but my Uncle Howard was such a part of the community back home, and well beyond the borders of Virginia, it would be shame on me, if I didn't...

Even though, I have oodles of free space here, and I could write hours about my Uncle Howard and all he accomplished over his lifetime...  

The character he was, and the character he had...  

His pure devotion to the loves of his life... his wife, his son, his brother, his extended family, his community, his state, and his country.  

And even though, I could write about the man of principle and dignity that he was... distinguished, yet, so very simple.  The fact that he was always a what you see is what you get kind of man.  

And even though, I could write a bit about about the legacy he's left, it's better that I leave his thoughtfully written obituary to touch on that.

Instead, I'm just going to share about this amazing man, as his niece...     

Besides my dad, my Uncle Howard was the only man left who actually knew me my entire lifetime.  Even though it had been years since we'd seen each other last, his presence was always there.  Yes, even during my out of touch years, his presence was still very much felt. I'm fortunate to count myself among the many nieces and nephews this amazing man's life touched.  He was "our" Uncle Howard.  To some of us, he was also much of a father figure.  He was most assuredly a God sent member of our family and one who was loved and respected by all of us.  My grandparents, my aunt's siblings (Mom) and their spouses (Dad), and my cousin's numerous cousins (we cousins are the offspring from 8 siblings, so we are a stair stepped generation within our own generation).  

Personally, it was such a blessing to have spent my childhood and my teen years with my aunt, my uncle and my cousin nearby.  We spent family time together during holidays and in between times.  In fact, some of my most vivid, special and first memories of my childhood include special times spent in their company.  I have way more than a few memories banked, but, will just pick a select special few to share... 

The Christmas Eves our families spent at their home trying to dodge his 8mm home movie camera.  On the ride there, we'd plot our evasive tactics.  But, like clock work, kids, teens and adults would all dash in and begin ducking heads the moment our feet stepped through the doorway.  I can still see my sister Gay in my mind's eye trying dodge his fun loving camera antics.  It's always been one of my most vivid Christmas memories of her, since we lost her when I was 13.  But, Uncle Howard never let anyone get by him.  He learned to set up the camera and listen for us to arrive.  Once our cars pulled into their driveway, he began rolling.  The light was so bright we couldn't see him, but we knew he was behind that doggone camera!  

One of my most fun memories as a child and of Uncle Howard is of the wonderful "snow" day he and Skip showed up at our home on Dare Circle unexpectedly in their bronze Chevy Station Wagon with a big red sled and a rope.  My big sisters were busy creating a GIANT snow version of George and Martha Washington with perfectly sculpted faces, while many of the neighborhood kids were helping. I was upset that they were using up all of our snow, because unlike most kids, I prefer mine to be on the ground!  Not all rolled up!  Well, Uncle Howard saved the day by diverting my attention.  What a ball we all had taking turns riding on the sled as Uncle Howard towed us up and down the Circles in Norview behind that station wagon.  

And that station wagon, what fun it was to ride in the second rear seat facing backwards.   I took a few trips with them to the area where I now reside to see family who had relocated from Virginia.  My grandparents, an uncle, and an aunt and two cousins.  The one that really sticks in my mind was when I was in third grade and my father was gravely ill.  We weren't sure at all if he was going to make it.  When school let out for the holidays that December, the Summer's family practically adopted me, and actually ferried me to Hamlet to stay with my grandparents.  On the way down, my cousin and I played car games and counted Volkswagen Bugs and Renault Dauphines enroute to pass time.  We'd also pump our arm up and down to get the guys driving 18-wheelers to give us a honk.  We were quite successful at it, I might add.  They also took me along with them (and my mom, too) in that station wagon to Williamsburg during the holidays a time or two, as well.  How wonderful those day trips were.  I can still see the Colonial Virginian town and historical sights in my mind's eye from that first trip and smell the fresh holiday scents of Williamsburg. 

That's one thing that never ever changed with him.  He always enjoyed spending close up time with his family.  Whether we were kids, or adults.  Whether it be in person, or over the phone.  He was also always genuinely interested in whatever we were up to and whatever we had to share.  He loved hearing stories and sharing stories with anyone and everyone.  He was easy to make friends with, and became a friend and uncle to my husband over the phone.  Although they never had the opportunity to meet face to face, they met heart to heart over the phone and quickly became buddies of sorts.  They'd email back and forth.  When we took little adventures, like a hike to the old Pee Dee River railroad trestle, Uncle Howard came along via my husband's cell phone.  Six trains came by in a little over an hour, and Uncle Howard was on the phone with my husband before or after each one.    

To all who knew my remarkable Uncle Howard, he was a man of character, strength and the utmost integrity.  He stayed on top of what was happening locally, across the nation, and in the world.  He loved and respected our nation's history, and was a patriot.  He believed in doing what was right.  And he was very much the epitome of a Virginian from his devotion to the Commonwealth of Virginia, to his marvelous Norfolkian/Tidewaterian accent.  It was rich.  It sounded like home to me. 

When I began this blog he and my aunt were two of the first people I sent the link to because I wanted them to see the "fight" and "spirit" that's inside of me, that's in each of my family members.  They knew my life had changed due to Epilepsy, but they also knew it wouldn't stop me cold.  Also, when I first picked up my little point 'n shoot camera, I automatically began sharing pictures with both my uncle and aunt.  They liked the shots so much, they bought the same little camera for my cousin.  I can't describe how happy that made me feel.  Not long afterward, my uncle went through a serious health crisis and that's when I began taking photos of birds.  My very first bird pics were "for" him.  I recall how the Cardinals and the Blue Jays seemed to know they were posing for someone very special.  Then, a few months later, he had another serious set back for awhile.  While he was doing his part to pull through, God gave my mother and I here a red sky and rainbow promise, that he would pull through.  He did.  I shared those photos with him, too, as I have countless others.  

So, as I write now and when I come to this place in the future, I will feel his presence, and his loss at the same time.  It's different than it is with my dad, because I didn't share this place with him.  Strange the things that come to you when you blog, and how it feels like a place.  Or, a private room in your house that you share with the world.  When those people that shared the place with you, even if it was only a few times, are gone, you miss them.  As I commented on my All Aboard Hamlet blog, I liken it to someone's special chair sitting empty in a cozy room.  

There's a chair here and in my heart that no one else will fill.  What's interesting, is that I experience that same empty chair feeling now whenever I watch our birds, knowing how much Uncle Howard enjoyed watching "his" birds.  Even though he's now in heaven, I wanted to take one last photo for him of something we both loved.  An outlet out of the house we both had in common was watching and taking care of our birds.  So, I sat on a bucket in snow and ice the day before his funeral, hoping to capture just the right shot of a Cardinal.  The photo at the beginning of this entry is as close to it as I could get.

Needless to say, I'll never see that Cardinal again and not think of my Uncle Howard. He's the brightest male of the two Cardinal couples that share our sanctuary.  I've watched it off and on since I took this shot and he, along with his wife, visit our feeders often.  They feed in harmony with the various Sparrows, the Chickadees, the Blue Jays, the Blue Birds, the Doves, the House Finches, the Wrens, the Titmice and the Woodpeckers above.  That kind of reflects him, too.  He got along with people and he'd find a way into you.


   
He never complained even though he suffered during a his last years.  To his nieces even though none of us live in the area, his presence on earth made us feel a little safer a little more secure.  He was our last husband, father, brother, and uncle in our family.  So, it's difficult to think of him not being with us any longer.  However, his light will always burn brightly in our hearts.  Uncle Howard, we love you dearly and we shall miss you every single day.  We are so very honored and happy God chose you to be our uncle.  Until we meet again in heaven...

1 comment:

Chip "Rocket Man" Allen said...

What a beautiful tribute to a remarkable man, Jeanne. I didn't know him but you've painted a picture in my mind and I feel as if I would recognize him in a minute.

That Tidewater accent you mentioned was a source of amusement to locals when we first moved here. I never thought I had an accent until people would give me a "squinty eyed" look and ask "Ya ain't fum 'round here, are ya?" Now everyone says I sound like I was born and raised in these mountains.....and I still don't hear an accent in my own voice.